Know your Target Audience

by Sandy Nagel

“Know Your Target Audience.” This is my mantra, just ask my clients or better yet ask Mike Barnes! I am always saying this phrase because its so important to the livelihood of nonprofit organizations. It can also be used for businesses and even in everyday life. Know with whom you are communicating.

Savvy nonprofit administrators know that defining target audiences helps save time, money, and other resources. Selecting the right medium to reach their audience is important, as well. For example, paying for a full-page ad in a national magazine or buying a 30-minute regional television spot isn’t a cost-effective way to reach a specific audiences. On the other hand, those strategies may be appropriate for a broad marketing campaign.

The nonprofit administrator should know who has used their service, how many volunteers they have (and will need in the future), and who has given money/in-kind donations to their mission. The administrator should know the age, where they live, what their lifestyle is, and more for each of their target demographics; by knowing these things, the nonprofit organization can target similar people through whatever marketing medium they choose.

Your target market is the specific group of people to which your organization has decided to aim its marketing efforts. If you think about your target audience in the context of everyone on the planet (all 7.53 billion) you can see that narrowing your target audience will prevent you from wasting money by targeting people who will never actually use, volunteer, or give to your organization. Knowing your target audience allows you to design messages that specifically appeal to those individuals, whether they are “users” of your organization, volunteers or donors.

The first step to identifying a target audience is to identify your goal(s). So, is your goal to:

  • Attract “clients” or “guests”
  • Recruit volunteers
  • Build your donor database
  • Secure funds for a project.

For each of these goals you are going to communicate to a particular target audience AND communicate differently to each one.

A useful model to help you understand and define your target audience is the marketing funnel. It shows categories that your users, volunteers, and donors fall into and describes how those categories are related to one another. The funnel groups “users” of your organization according to how much they trust you, use/donate to your organization, and recommend it.

The purpose of the “funnel” is to help the nonprofit organization to develop specific marketing strategies for potential “users”, such as new users, repeat users and raving fans.  EX: A nonprofit looking to increase donations would want to increase new donors as well as getting previous donors to give again.  To attract new donors, a broad approach such as TV ads, newspaper ads and content from the nonprofits Facebook page could be used. Existing donors would receive emails or direct mail pieces requesting additional donations for a specific campaign.

The “marketplace” is broken down into 5 behavior stages, or phases:

  • Awareness: these people are aware of your organization but have yet to consider using, volunteering, or donating to it. Awareness is created on social media (ex Facebook) using targeted ads, engagement with Facebook posts, and content shared from your website using Facebook Social Plugins
  • Consideration: People are considering using, volunteering, or donating to it but have yet to do so. This is the stage where the potential “user” needs proof, testimonies, guarantees, and anything that will instill confidence to proceed to the next stage.
  • Conversion: These people have made the leap to use, volunteer, or donate to your organization. They are at the highest risk of experiencing remorse. In addition to your normal channels (email, phone or letter), you want to actively monitor this “user” to answer questions/feedback.
  • Loyalty: These people have decided to use, volunteer, or donate repeatedly. They have done so because your organization is of a high quality and most importantly they TRUST you!
  • Advocacy: These people recommend your organization to others. So treat these folks like gold with small tokens, praise, and recognition.

One of the first steps in developing a target audience strategy is to analyze your current user, volunteer and donor databases. Of all your audiences, think about the ones who keep coming back – the ones who consistently tell others about your organization. Wouldn’t you want to attract more of these folks.  Of course!

These people have already demonstrated that they are willing to put out their cash or credit card to donate and/or give of their time/talent to your organization. There is a HUGE difference between someone liking what you do and giving to your organization. There is a HUGE difference between someone giving to your organization one time and giving repeatedly.

So define your target audience as “the ideal person you want to get your organization in front of.” It has to be the same characteristics as your advocates discussed above. For example, imagine a nonprofit helps kids who are struggling with reading. Through simple research, the nonprofit discovers that its best users are parents or grandparents of children 1st-12th grade who are struggling with reading. On the other hand, the best group to approach for donations are corporations with a corporate responsibility budget, grandparents, and educational advocates. All theses groups like to keep their money local. Rather than targeting everyone within a 50 mile radius of their city, they only target parents and grandparents in the local area. Their marketing dollars would be best targeted to parenting magazines, retirement centers, local chambers of commerce, and online marketing.

Here are several factors to consider when creating a target audience:

  • Age: depends on your type of nonprofit organization. If your organization is helping young children learn to read you may want to target grandparents. **With respect to age, sometimes it’s best to target a range of ages i.e. pregnant women versus marketers of retirement funds might pick a specific age.
  • Gender: Men tend to give to a nonprofit on a more frequent basis and are more prone to use recurring donations where the amount is directly taken out of their account, versus women who usually give based on “emotion. Having said this,  64% of donations are given by women. Take into account if your organization is suited to one gender than another (women’s organization). If you target a gender, be careful to consider who the actual person is who writes the check to your organization.
  • Geographic location: Helping homeless people in Greater Cincinnati will draw people within a 50 mile radius of Cincinnati, N KY or SE Indiana (unless a person located somewhere else has a tie to Cincinnati)
  • Interests: Understanding your target audience’s interests is very important because it allows you to tailor your communications directly to them.

So create a persona (a fictional character based on real data and market research who represents a segment of one of your target audiences. You can create more than one.) Figure out who your customers are: their needs, demographics, income, occupation, education, and gender. Ask yourself whether they volunteer and how much they donate to charity.  Click HERE for Hubspot’s templates for nonprofits personas.

  • Create groups of “users, volunteers, and donors that share a lot of characteristics: include groups for new users, and repeat users to help you understand why people use, volunteer, or donate at your organization in the first place and why they return.
  • Rank these groups in order of importance: Donors (new, annual, repeat), Volunteers (one time, project related, repeat) and Users (one time, repeat)
  • Invent fictional characters who represent each group: Add details such as age, gender, occupation, marital status, hobbies/interests, etc.
  • Give these characters life by using stock photos of actual people and name them: This step makes it easier to create communications that speak directly to these people. It may be tempting to skip this step, but don’t. The more real you can make your personas, the more compelling your marketing will be.
  • Create a short back story for each person: A food pantry might have the following story for “Carol”, one of its volunteers.

“Carol is a 55-year old empty-nester with 2 kids in college. She’s a busy customer service manager at a local software company but strongly believes in living a balanced and meaningful life. She also values contributing to her local community. When her kids moved to Oregon to go to college, Carol began working at the local food pantry. This gives her a tremendous sense of happiness – not only because she believes in giving back, but also because she has new friends who she has over for dinner parties. For Carol, the food pantry is not at all about food; it’s about living a meaningful life.

Having this information becomes the foundation of your marketing strategy and allows your organization to connect with your supporters, volunteers, and “clients/”guests” more authentically. This marketing strategy work is NOT just for the Executive Director, Development Director and Volunteer Coordinator to work on. Involve your board. The board’s role is to provide governance and oversight. When it comes to marketing, the board needs to set clear strategy for direction, and empower the nonprofit leadership to create and implement a communication strategy. A strategic plan will identify outcomes, containing tactics and objectives that a communication plan will support.

If you have any questions about your nonprofit’s development, marketing, volunteer or strategic planning needs, please email me at  Sandy Nagel, NonProfit Guru, Consultant and Grant Writer with Awakened Innovations

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